The heavily glycosylated native-like envelope (Env) trimer of HIV-1 is expected to have low immunogenicity, whereas misfolded forms are often highly immunogenic. High-quality correctly folded Envs may therefore be critical for developing a vaccine that induces broadly neutralizing antibodies. Moreover, the high variability of Env may require immunizations with multiple Envs. Here, we report a universal strategy that provides for correctly folded Env trimers of high quality and yield through a repair-and-stabilize approach. In the repair stage, we utilized a consensus strategy that substituted rare strain-specific residues with more prevalent ones. The stabilization stage involved structure-based design and experimental assessment confirmed by crystallographic feedback. Regions important for the refolding of Env were targeted for stabilization. Notably, the α9-helix and an intersubunit β sheet proved to be critical for trimer stability. Our approach provides a means to produce prefusion-closed Env trimers from diverse HIV-1 strains, a substantial advance for vaccine development. Rutten et al. describe a universal repair and stabilize approach that corrects rare mutations and stabilizes refolding regions to obtain high-quality HIV Envs with high yields. The crystal structure shows how the optimization of the trimer interface between α9, α6, and the intersubunit β-sheet stabilizes the membrane-proximal base.
Rutten, L., Lai, Y. T., Blokland, S., Truan, D., Bisschop, I. J. M., Strokappe, N. M., … Langedijk, J. P. M. (2018). A Universal Approach to Optimize the Folding and Stability of Prefusion-Closed HIV-1 Envelope Trimers. Cell Reports, 23(2), 584–595. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2018.03.061